Climber falls 200 feet from Camp VI to Camp V, resulting in fatality
May 2015: Greg, Bob, and Luke were on their third day on the Nose. They were on a big ledge atop pitch 26, called Camp VI, with another party of two. Bob led the next pitch, the Changing Corners, while the other party waited for them to pass. Greg had just arrived at Camp VI after ascending a fixed rope. As Bob led above the four climbers, he accidentally dropped a nut, which landed on a ledge 20 feet below Camp VI. Luke said he’d get it in a moment. Shortly thereafter, Greg, for reasons unknown, leaned back; unanchored, he fell 200 feet to the end of the rope he’d just ascended. With rope stretch, he hit a ledge at Camp V, resulting in fatality.
Bob lowered and then rappelled to Greg, whom he found hanging from the rope three feet above the ledge. He was tied in and had his Grigri on his belay loop, closed but not clipped to the rope. The climbers called 911, and YOSAR rescued all three that afternoon. They left a fixed line for the witnessing party to ascend to the top.
Analysis and prevention
When faced with the complexities of big-wall climbing, there is seemingly endless potential for mistakes. As Bob would later blog, “… it was a small oversight with enormous consequences.” Even the most experienced climbers are vulnerable to errors—leaning back on a ledge unanchored, forgetting to clip both ropes through the carabiner for rappels, clipping into the wrong anchor point. Recognizing our vulnerability to these mistakes, and how exhaustion, hunger, and dehydration play into them, is the first step in prevention. It’s important to stay vigilant around other parties. The extra ropes and haulbags can make it easier to overlook the details.
Communicate: Maintain simple and clear communication among partners. Tell your partner what you’re doing without making it too complicated. Keep commands simple, straightforward, and short.
Fuel: Bring ample food and water. Remember, short tempers and sluggishness can be signs of hunger and dehydration. Left untreated, these can lead to mistakes.
Good Habits: Build habits into your routine that include double-checks and backups. Snug the rap device against the anchor and weight the rope before unclipping from the anchor, always clip into at least one anchor point even on a big ledge, and force yourself to eat and drink regularly. If you’ve developed good habits, a red flag will appear if you stray.